Character training is one of the supreme goals of Christian education. God says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Children must be faithfully trained, line upon line, precept upon precept, day after day after day. It is not enough merely to present a list of character traits and definitions for students to memorize and then suppose that the job of character training has been accomplished.
Character Training Through Biblical Discipline
To train means to exercise, to discipline, to teach and form by practice. When a person is trained, it becomes part of his character to do what he has been taught. It is built into his spirit, and he has to go against his own spirit to do the wrong thing. Training builds habits that are right, and training must take place all through the day, not merely in a “character lesson” taught once a day or once a week.
Every subject area, every teaching method, every attitude, every action of student or teacher is a means of training character. Character training is taking place throughout the day, no matter what else is being taught.
There may be a place for teaching character traits in the abstract, and it is certainly important to give students a wealth of reading material in which good character traits are acted out, but it is not enough simply to talk about doing right. The child must be expected to do right, and even, so to speak, be forced to do right time and time again by means of Godly discipline until the time comes that he has learned to choose the right on his own, based on right teaching and the Word of God.
Character Training Through Teachers and Curriculum
A teacher who is faithful to the Christian philosophy of education will be doing much to build habits of good character. A school that emphasizes respect for authority trains the students to hearken wisely unto counsel (Proverbs 12:15), so that in time he may be a just authority for future generations. A curriculum that teaches the traditional subject matter of language (correct reading, writing, and speaking), content (Bible, history, language, science, and mathematics), and Biblical character training strengthens and enriches the students’ character through every word, every thought, every example, as the students learn that all truth is God’s truth, and that for the Christian there is no difference between the secular and the sacred.
Traditional teaching methods, Biblical discipline, excellence of content — all work together in the Christian school to produce students with outstanding character.
Character Training Through Bible Teaching
The most important area of the curriculum for character development is, of course, actual study of the Bible itself. It cannot be stressed enough that Bible study is the main means of building character — not the study of some man’s distillation of the Scriptures by means of notebooks, workbooks, or systematic theology — but a study of the Bible itself in the way that God wrote it. This begins in the lower grades with the concrete stories in the Old and New Testaments. It gradually progresses to more abstract lessons in the New Testament epistles and the wisdom books. Doctrines also are taught at appropriate times. All students are expected to memorize prescribed Scripture passages each month.
The teacher teaches the student that it is not enough merely to hear the Bible taught in school and church, but that it is his privilege and responsibility to read the Scriptures for himself. This way God speaks directly to him through His Word. Indeed, the principle of each person reading the Bible for himself is the core, the essence, the key to individual liberty, responsibility, and character.
Character Training Through the Formation of Habit
The final aim of Christian education is the production of individuals who will habitually choose to do right because it is right to do right. Christians have a standard of right and wrong, the Word of God, and we must train students to choose habitually to act upon the teachings of that true Standard.
This goal is accomplished by carefully and clearly laying down rules and principles, and through Biblical discipline, getting the students to act in accord with these principles time after time and learn how to carefully think about the principles and consciously choose to apply them. Finally, by force of habit, each student will on his own be able to deliberate and choose to do right because the faithful training of his teachers and parents has allowed him to choose the dictates of reason rather than the dictates of the passions. It is at this point that God, through Christ, enables the person to serve the Law of God rather than the law of sin (Romans 7:25). God does the work, but it is the responsibility of the parents and teachers to lay the foundation, and it is the responsibility of the individual to choose to do right.